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Explorer La Salle the subject of Austin history symposium

Written by , published November 20, 2013

A group of historians and others who study the historic French presence in the upper Mississippi Valley will gather in Austin this weekend to discuss a French explorer who’s New World journey encountered rough travels in a territory that came to be Texas.

The Center for French Colonial Studies is holding its annual convention at the Bullock Texas State History Museum. This year’s theme is “The Lasting Legacy of René Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle from the St. Lawrence River Valley to the Gulf of Mexico.”

Registration for the event has closed, but the museum says people interested in attending the symposium on Saturday can call Kate Betz at 512/936-4625 to inquire about attending.

In January of 1685, after a five-month journey from France, explorer La Salle made landfall on the Texas Gulf Coast, believing himself to be close to the mouth of the Mississippi River. Within months, the expedition had lost two ships. The one remaining vessel, La Belle, sank in the rough seas of Matagorda Bay in 1686, and within the year, while attempting to walk back to French lands in the north, La Salle was murdered by disenchanted followers.

The Texas Historical Commission excavated the Belle shipwreck in the mid-1990s. Finds included “the hull of the ship, three bronze cannons, thousands of glass beads, bronze hawk bells, pottery and even the skeleton of a crew member,” the historical commission says on its website.

Artifacts from the La Belle have been displayed at various museums, and next fall, the Bullock will host an exhibit featuring the hull of the excavated Belle and other artifacts.

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